Ever since Najam Sethi’s name has been mentioned in the context of the PCB interim scenario, some people have raised their brows and asked, “But has he played cricket?” I am able to answer that with a firm, “Yes he has”. But before I share that, there is another story that bears sharing.

Unconfirmed as it may be, wags say that when Ziaul Haq – that lovely man adored to distraction by this nation – appointed the affable Lt Gen Butt who was then the Wapda chief, as the new PCB head, Gen Butt protested and said, “But sir I don’t know anything about cricket”. Retorted the president, “But neither do you know anything about power and you are head of Wapda”, after which the conversation ended. Years ago, my late brother Khalid Hasan had written that in Pakistan “if you are not qualified for the job, you will get it”. Truer words were never said! But not about Najam or NS as his friends call him.

Shortly before NS was to marry Jugnu Mohsin, daughter of Mr and Mrs Mohammad Mohsin of Mitchell’s Fruit Farms, the idea of holding a cricket match between a team from Lahore and the regulars from Renala was floated. On a Sunday, we piled onto a bus for the shortish journey to the picturesque fruit farms at the Renala estate. The team – and there is some controversy here – was led by Khaled Ahmed or Najam Sethi or possibly in an easy sharing of the expected spoils, by both.

The august members of this team were the late and much lamented Shahid Rehman, Chota Sethi (Hamidi?), a few youngsters and two ‘ready reckoners’ – one was called Bashir Gunja (baldie) I think, a ruthless plundering batsman we had ‘imported’ from the Railways to ensure victory. It was a kind of match-fixing, but not the virulent kind now rampant. A few other brave souls – maybe Dr Hamid Kizilbash, Rashed Rehman and other social floatables made up the ragtag outfit.

My two young nephews and my boys were there too to lend a helping hand to the uncles who bravely trod the field. Also filling the coaster were assorted children who, having heard that we were heading to the chocolate and toffee-making empire of Mitchell’s, had tagged along – day dreaming of the delicious delights waiting at the farms. This ragtag assembly of players was named ‘Lahore Lafangas’ or ‘Lahore Vagabonds’. It was not altogether an inappropriate title.

We duly arrived at the pretty country cricket ground. Chairs had been drawn up alongside the boundary for the gentry while the serfs watched from other parts of the green oval. The surrounding fields were full of citrus trees laden to the ground and acres of fresh veggies such as carrots and radishes growing in the bright crisp sunshine of that winter day. The Lafangas won the toss and chose to bat. Mr Mohsin, immaculately turned out in his cream flannels and sweater to match, led his team out to the middle. The first two overs delivered by the foreman of the factory, and one by someone from accounts, were slogged over the boundary line by Bashir.

The scoring shots were 6,6,6,4,6,1 and from the other end, 4,6,6,6,6,1.58 runs from two overs. The foreman, who was considered something of a legend in those parts, was in despair. Mr Mehdi was decidedly looking unhappy. The sixes hit by Bashir had sailed past the immediate fields into God knows what part of the estate. Hardly were they able to locate the balls and off it was on an even longer and higher trajectory. Scattered lines from Tennyson’s ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ sprang to the lips. NS asked if anyone had asked Bashir Gunja to ‘go easy’, and it seemed no one had. I was dispatched with appropriate instructions to caution the Gunja into playing a few defensive shots which I did in a hissing conspiratorial tone heard well beyond the ground.

This had no effect on Bashir G who was now in his element and quite unstoppable. In just a few overs he was rolling along at 102 not out at which point he was waved to return ‘retired’ to the pavilion. The other batsman had in the meantime managed to score two runs. The foreman was in tatters and beyond consolation. Some normalcy descended with Gunja’s departure and NS graced the crease awhile fending awkward questions from his intended father-in-law who was keen to know the antecedents of the Gunja.

“I don’t recall meeting him at your house”, he said. NS was unable to give him any satisfactory answer since he had no clue himself. Khaled Ahmed hit a few lusty blows and the rest of us chipped in with a bit of this and a bit of that. The boundary-walas were in the meantime pampered by tons of carrots and radishes sprinkled with salt and gorged themselves on the stuff. Jugnu and Moni her younger sister, played hosts and fed us more carrots. When the innings closed, it was time for lunch. The foreman was understandably not feeling peckish. Neither were the boys but the Lafangas were unaffected. ‘Aloo gosht’ (meat-potatoes) and rice was the order of the day with fresh kinoos and the eternal carrots and radishes.

The Lafangas languidly took to the field and the Mitchell’s innings commenced. They even managed to post a few good runs. The reason for this partly was that the Lahore Lafangas were in their element. The fielding was a shambles. Our wicketkeeper, Comrade Shahid Rehman, continued to dive to his left to take catches and stop snicks and in spite of brotherly advice was unable any longer to distinguish between left and right. Thus many snicks went for fours since Shahid was forever diving the wrong way.

The Lafangas were rolling around in laughter watching their peers tottering after a red ball. At some point in the afternoon, fresh from a feast of more carrots and radishes, Khaled Ahmed – for reasons that remain shrouded in mystery – decided to catch a skier hit by one of the Renala lads. As he swayed and swooned, he proceeded to run backwards much to the worry of the Lafangas. Sure enough Khaled Ahmed landed into an indentation in the outfield and fell in a heap clutching wildly at a ball that was not there. There was a crack and a loud scream of pain. KA had successfully broken his left arm. Play was held up and KA was removed by a team of the Lafangas who were quite unsteady by this time. In any event, Renala still had an astronomical amount of runs to make and the match petered out to an end.

Were the Lafangas led by NS that winter day in a manner befitting a chief? I think they were. With KA out of the reckoning and Jugnu pleased no end about the victory of her to-be, it was a nice end to a nice day. We politely refused further helpings of the carrots, made a brief tour of the factory where the children – drooling visibly at the mouth – saw tons of toffees, drops, éclairs and chocolates come hurtling down into giant bins. They kept hoping for the goodies but the factory manager was not in a generous mood having been briefed by the crestfallen foreman.

As we left the estate and hit GT Road, we overtook Bashir Gunja, his spikes slung over the Vespa handlebars, riding merrily into the dusky sunset the same way he had come in the morning.

I have no doubt that NS will manage the outing at ICC